“If I Want Friends Does That Mean I Can’t End Suffering?”

It appears that I caused some confusion and controversy with the post I sent out yesterday. A number of people wrote to me asking for clarification, and others expressed some dismay. I’m writing today to see if I can clear things up a bit.

The post contained two main points. The first was that I feel there’s a benefit to a sangha, to a community of people who do spiritual practice together, that is not social. It’s helpful to have a place to go where you don’t have to be your conditioned personality, and where there is support for being who you truly are. It is not necessary for a practice to avoid being social in order to create a place where people are encouraged to interact authentically, but it can help a lot, especially as people are sorting out for themselves what is authentic within themselves and within their experience, and what is not. Nobody that I heard from objected to this part of the post. I do know, however, that there is some regret within the sangha that the sangha is not social, that I’m encouraging people to avoid getting to know each other personally and socially, and I feel very sympathetic about this. I understand that it would be wonderful to form friendships and relationships with people who are also practicing being centered and aware. I’m not willing to tell people they cannot connect in this way, and I’m also aware that there is a point in practice where this sort of structure needs to come down in order to create an environment that encourages real maturity, but I will caution you that in my experience the results tend not to be good, and this is especially the case for folks newer to practice. There is something precious that can be lost, and it would be regrettable to me to hear that people have sacrificed that precious thing–the sort of impersonal intimacy that can only happen in a practice environment–for the kinds of social connections they can acquire elsewhere in their lives.

The part that wigged people out is what I said about my own personal life and the choices that I make in terms of my own relationships. I said, simply, that I don’t choose to have personal relationships, other than family and my relationship with Kathleen (and the exceptions of a couple old friends from before my time at the monastery that I didn’t mention yesterday). .

Several people asked along the lines of, “If I want to have friends, does that mean I can’t end suffering?” No, of course not. There is nothing whatsoever about friendship between people that is incompatible with spiritual practice, with being present and aware, or with ending suffering. Not in the least! Centered, spiritual friendship is one of the best things there is! I have tons of centered, spiritual friendships in my life of various kinds, and I value them very much. Conditioned friendships (i.e., friendships that support each person’s conditioned personality) are worse than useless, in my opinion, but friendship that connects people to people authentically is one of the most beautiful and precious things in the world.

Several other people said that they feel sorry for me. Haha! It really is astounding the way that we project onto each other, isn’t it? Whenever I send out something about me and the way I live my life, personally, it’s always with the awareness that people are going to assume a bunch of stuff about it and about me that is not my reality. There is no reason to feel sorry for me, friends. I would imagine that I am one of the happiest, most fulfilled, and most alive people that you know. Others have projected that I have lived the way that I have and I have done what I have done in order to run away from life, or because I couldn’t handle the suffering I endured otherwise. This was certainly the case to some extent when I was younger and before I discovered spiritual practice–some of what I did was a running away, and some was a running towards–but this has not been the case since I learned how to practice, just so you know. Practice has carried me towards life and other people, not away from life and other people; it has caused me to confront the suffering that I carried, and not to avoid it.

On the other hand, I heard from some other folks who looked into what I said as into a mirror, which of course is the intent that goes along with anything that I say, in order to evaluate the quality of their own relationships, and to explore the decisions they’re making in terms of the relationships they have with others. It very much warmed my heart to receive these responses, and to witness the way people were practicing with the information they had received about my own choices. Nice job, folks! That’s a big aspect of what spiritual practice is, of course, at least in the way that I do it: we accept everything that arises, everything that we hear and experience, as a teaching, and we use it to look into ourselves and see what we can learn. It would have been good, though, if I had been clearer, and so allow me if you will to give you a bit more information so that you can understand better how I orient myself and my own life to relationships with others.

First, I want to make sure that you all understand that my path is my own individual path; the form my own practice takes is the form that is appropriate to me, and is appropriate for no one else. We each have our own karma to work out in this life, and we each have to find our own salvation in the way that is appropriate to that karma. In addition, we each are different people inherently, and we bring different qualities and characteristics to this life, and these natural attributes influence the direction our lives and our practice will go. Talking with someone about these things yesterday, I realized the extent to which people look to me to see what practice is and what practice looks like, and there’s a tendency to assume that the way I’m doing practice is the way it needs to be done. This is not the case at all. I hope that I am doing a good job of modeling the sort of sincerity and dedication required in order to make good progress along the path through a life, but the form that this has taken for me is my form alone. You each need to find your own way; you each need to discover the form your own practice must take so that you may end suffering within your own particular life, for you. If you follow my way blindly you will not get there, and ending suffering will not happen. There is one unique way to practice that is yours alone, and that’s what you must find for yourself in your life.

My own karma (in terms of the conditioning I’ve received) and my own dharma (my unique part of the Divine Cosmos) have provided me with a profound desire throughout my life for solitude, for space and quiet, and for time to reflect and go as deeply as I can into my experience. To say it another way, and in a theistic way, my most intimate relationship has always been with God. This was the case even years before I entered the monastery, at a time when I was aware of nothing about the way things work, and was perfectly clueless on every level. Even then I felt the presence of Divinity within me, and I longed to connect with that Presence, and to somehow become one with it. I spent my twenties alone, by and large, living in the back of a van much of the time, living in a little shack in the mountains up here another part of the time, and I adored it. It’s true that a piece of my motivation at that time was unhealthy, and that I was afraid of people and I was avoiding them, but the much bigger piece was my love of Life, of God, of the Great Mystery, or whatever else we might call it. I felt I would much rather be out in the woods or out in the desert on my own with Life, than be in the world of people and relating to people. This is just the way I’m put together. I have an unusually sensitive religious and spiritual nature, I think, that has driven me throughout my life to seek the deepest connection I could achieve with my own experience, and with the Divine origin of that experience, and that has been a wonderful, beautiful thing. There’s been a ton of suffering going on as well, of course, but that suffering has just been the barrier between me and the deepest desire of my heart, which has always been to connect with God. Throughout my life I have chosen to spend much of my time and much of my life alone in order to have my deepest desire, and so I continue to do, even now.

At the same time, my training at the monastery taught me that too much solitude becomes isolation, and in that isolation I will end up being in relationship with conditioned mind rather than with Divinity. And so, as I left the monastery, it was clear to me that I needed to be involved in the world and involved with other people, and avoid isolating myself. That is the reason, or at least a portion of the reason, why I have chosen the path that I have these past years since leaving the monastery. I have followed a way that has allowed me to cultivate a great many beautiful, healthy, profoundly intimate, happy, and fun relationships with lots of people. I talk with these people every day; I have a rich life that is full of nourishing connections with other people, which I am wonderfully grateful for. These are the people I do practice with and share practice with. Despite what I said above, I do have relational needs, of course, and these relationships that I enjoy with folks in the sangha go a long way to taking care of that need. In addition, there are several people who I trained with at the monastery and who I have connected with since leaving the monastery, who have become beautiful friends to me. We are friends within practice, I think I could say. We support each other on a practice level, in other words, and I feel a beautiful love for these people, for them as they are as people, just as I do for everyone in the sangha.

I recognize as I write this that I have an opportunity to connect with others within sangha that nobody else has, because of my position as leader and facilitator. Perhaps at some point I will find a way for everyone to have this privilege that doesn’t dissipate and ultimately ruin the practice environment I’m attempting to create.

I also have a woman in my life, who I love very much. As you may know from earlier posts, a miracle has happened in my relationship with her, and I now see her as my person for the rest of this life, and I hope to enjoy her love, her company, and her support for many years to come. Putting together the life I am creating with Kathleen, and the presence I already have in the lives of dozens of other people, and their presence in my life, it’s hard to imagine a life that is more connected, at least in the way that I want to connect, and is more intimately involved with my fellow humans.

All I meant to say yesterday is that I choose to avoid the sorts of relationships that do not support the work I’m doing all day every day to be who I truly am, and to let go of being the conditioned selves I was taught to be. I choose not to be ‘social’ if ‘social’ is to relate conditioned personality to conditioned personality, as is the case by and large, from what I can see, for just about everyone. I have no interest in those sorts of relationships. For me, in general, because of the calling I have felt to a life devoted to spiritual practice, and the semi-monastic life that I still pursue, because this is what I desire for myself and what makes me truly happy, I prefer for my relationships and my friendships to happen within a practice context, which means they will be loving in a good and intimate way, but also in a certain way impersonal. This is very unusual, I realize, and is not at all for everyone, but at this point in my life at least this seems the way to go which most serves what I truly want for myself in this life. These were the only points that I intended to make.

If this does not sufficiently clarify things for you, let me know and I’ll keep at it. Thank you for your responses, all of you, to yesterday’s post! It’s fun for me to have this sort of conversation with the sangha.

I have a bit more to say about this, but I’m aware that I’ve taken enough of your time already, and so I’ll save it for tomorrow. Be well, friends, and have a beautiful day!

In peace,